Guideline Four | Authority

4. Define clear channels of communication with the project leader and sponsor, supported by authorisation from senior management.

Having responsibility without being given authority is too often a real challenge for Project Managers. It is critically important to gain a clear understanding of your role and how it is supported both by the Project Leader and senior management within your University. A first step in this is to establish clear and effective channels of communication with those you report to and then ensure that your role and authority to act as Project Manager is established and communicated to relevant stakeholders through some form of documentation.

You may need to be proactive in achieving this since your project – while central to your work – may be one of many that are being overseen within your University. Nevertheless, if you can facilitate wide understanding of your role and authority, it will not only assist you to carry out your tasks, but also provide protection from a range of potential issues such as unrealistic expectations, insufficient resources, internal politics and competing interests.

Two documents are particularly important in this regard. First, a simple authorisation letter or memo from a senior manager is sufficient to clarify and formalise your role and authority. This should cover the following and might be copied to senior staff for information:

  • who is sponsoring/overseeing the project
  • the project start date and expected duration
  • what the Project Manager is authorised to do
  • what the Project Manager is expected to do
  • what resources will be made available to the project
  • what steering arrangements will be established

Second, if your project has a Steering Group, it is important to develop a formal Terms of Reference document. Useful topics to include in such a document are:

  • what the Group has been asked to do
  • what the limits of its responsibilities are
  • who it is answerable to
  • how its work links to other activities
  • how it should operate (e.g. meeting frequency, disposition)
  • what support it should expect and/or dispense

Finally, talking early in the project with the Project Leader and the chair of the Steering Group about communications will preclude many potential issues. Useful conversations could cover topics such as:

  • the need for agenda briefings prior to meetings
  • progress updates (how often, preferred format)
  • advocating for the project and a willingness to ‘go into bat’ on behalf of the project
  • reports upwards from the Steering Group to the University or other overseeing bodies